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What Are Mesh Networks And How Do They Work?

Have you ever heard of mesh networks? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably used one before. If you’ve connected to the wifi in a large area like a school, shopping centre, or hospital, then you were likely using a mesh network. Essentially, a mesh network is a type of wifi network that can cover a large area and provide strong wifi signal even at a considerable distance from the router.

Mesh networks used to be used mainly by the military or large-scale commercial organisations. However, in the last few years mesh networking hardware has been made available for home users. If you are trying to set up a wifi network that covers the entirety of a large home or a small office, then a mesh network may be just what you need.

In this article we’ll explain how mesh networks work and why they’re better than the alternatives. Then we’ll talk about how to keep your network safe and secure. Read on to learn: what are mesh networks?

Why Not Use A Repeater For A Large WiFi Network?

If you’ve had a large space that you wanted to use a wifi network in before, then you’ve probably come across other solutions like wifi extenders or repeaters. These solutions have been on the market for many years and are widely available from retail stores and online shops. In theory, these products sound great: you simply use a regular router, then place an extender at the edge of your router’s range to boost the total range across your entire space. You can even daisy chain extenders together to cover a very large area.

However, there are problems with this approach. The most annoying issue for everyday use is that your router and your repeaters will usually have different SSIDs. This means that even if they router and the repeater(s) are connected to the same internet network, they will appear as two different wifi networks on your device. If you are using your phone to connect wirelessly to your router in your kitchen, then you walk upstairs out of the router’s range and want to connect to the wifi from the repeater, you will have to get out your phone, open your wifi settings, disconnect from your router’s network and connect to your repeater’s network instead. This is obviously a big annoyance and does not give you the seamless transition experience from router to repeater that you want.

Another related problem is to do with the way that devices detect wifi networks. If your device can detect a wifi network that you are connected to, then it will maintain that connection even if the signal strength is weak. This means that when you walk from your kitchen to upstairs, your device will stay connected to the router’s network when there is a poor connection, even though there is a full strength connection available from your repeater. Until you are fully out of range of the original network you will stay connected, even when the signal strength is poor, rather than switching to the other network that has a strong signal. This means that when you actually use your device, you’ll often end up on irritatingly slow connections. This is why repeaters seem like an easy solution but are actually a pain to use in practice.

How Does A Mesh Network Work?

Mesh networks are different from router and repeater combinations. Instead of a spoke system, where the internet connection is fed to your router and all other devices connect to that router like spokes on a wheel, mesh networks create a blanket of wifi coverage. Mesh networks are created by a system of wifi stations which work together, seamlessly switching your device from one station to another for consistently good coverage and internet speeds. All the devices creating the mesh network have the same SSID, so they create one wifi network that you can connect to and roam from one place to another without having your internet connection interrupted.

The individual stations that create a mesh network are known as nodes or pods. Each station is the same as the others, so instead of a single hub with many devices or repeaters attached, you have a system of stations that work together. The one difference between the station is that there’s usually just one station which is attached to an ethernet cable which supplies the internet connection. The other stations are fully wireless and share the input from the one wired station.

The advantages of using a mesh network are several: firstly, you get consistent and reliable internet all over the space that you are working in. There won’t be dark spots in wifi coverage due to poor line of sight from the router to your devices (structures like concrete walls will often block traditional wifi, but this isn’t a problem for mesh networks as you can place a station on the other side of the wall for full coverage). It’s also very easy to scale a mesh network: if you want to cover a bigger area later down the line, you can simply add another station. Conversely, if you move into a smaller space you can just use fewer of the stations you have. This means that you can take your mesh network from one location to another and adapt it flexibly to your needs.

What Hardware Is Available For Mesh Networks?

There are three popular hardware systems available for mesh networking: the Eero, Google Wifi, and the Orbi by Netgear. Of these, the Orbi was the first available on the market and supports the highest internet speeds, so it’s good for businesses but is considerably more expensive than the other options. It’s not a particularly attractive piece of hardware but neither is it an eyesore. The Google Wifi is popular for home use due to coming from such a big company and for being extremely easy to set up. The Eero also has a growing userbase among home users as it is easy to manage and work with. Both the Google Wifi and the Eero have the advantage of being discreet and attractive devices which would not look unappealing if they were placed around the home.

Depending on what your particular setup needs are and how many devices you will require to cover the space you are occupying, you should expect to spend between $200 and $400 on your mesh network setup. This isn’t cheap, and it isn’t necessary for a small home or apartment. But if you have a large home or a small office and you want reliable, fast internet over the whole space, then a mesh network can be a worthwhile investment.

How To Secure Your Mesh Network

If you’re thinking about setting up a mesh network in your home, then you should consider how you will deal with security as well as considering which hardware you should use and how you will configure it. As with any home network, you need to make sure that your internet traffic is safe and secure. This is particularly important for mesh networks as these networks cover large areas and will presumably be used by many different people. If anyone on your network does something illegal like downloading copyrighted content via torrents, then you could be liable for a fine or prosecution because you are responsible for the network. In addition, if you’re using your mesh network for your small business then it’s even more important that your wifi should have good security so that no one’s device gets hacked and no one’s internet activity is recorded by outsiders.

When you use a VPN, your real IP address will be hidden so that your online activity can’t be traced by your ISP, by the government, or by law enforcement. It will protect your privacy by ensuring that no one can see what internet sites people have been visiting or what files they have been downloading. It will also encrypt other internet communications such as instant messages, which are often used by small businesses and which can contain highly private business information. A VPN can also be used to protect users from other cyber threats like viruses, phishing, or malware.

Often, people will have a personal VPN that they install onto their personal devices and which will encrypt the traffic coming from just those devices. However, if you are setting up a mesh network then you have a better option. You can install VPN software onto a VPN-capable router which feeds signal to your mesh network units, and then all of the traffic over your entire mesh network will be protected by the VPN. Any person and any device which connects to your mesh network will automatically be protected by the VPN, with no setup or technical knowledge required of them. This is the best option for protecting an entire network and ensuring that you are not prosecuted for any downloading or other activity which might take place on your network. VPNs are supported by the key mesh network hardwares: Eero allows VPN passthrough, Orbi comes with a built-in VPN service, and Google Wifi can be connected to a VPN capable router.

Recommended VPNs For Mesh Networks

If you’re looking for a VPN to use on your mesh network, then here are our recommendations based on speed, security, and flexibility:

1. ExpressVPN

If you’re a serious internet user who want a VPN that is the best of all worlds when you look at speed, reliability, and flexibility, then you want ExpressVPN. This VPN has some of the fastest connection we’ve seen, so it’s perfect for a speedy mesh network that will create high speed wifi throughout your space. The security is excellent, with the use of strong 256-bit encryption to keep your data safe and a no logging policy to protect your privacy. The server network that is available to your through ExpressVPN is huge, with more than 1000 servers in 145 different locations in 94 countries available. The software is very easy to use even for someone who is unfamiliar with VPNs, and it includes helpful features like a speed test to help you find the best possible connection and a DNS leak test for maximum peace of mind. The software can be installed on Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS, and Linux, plus a variety of routers that are suitable for mesh networks.

2. IPVanish

When you want a VPN that is lightning fast and won’t slow you down one bit, then we recommend IPVanish. Its super fast connections are perfect for working with your mesh network to create high speed wifi over a large area. The speed doesn’t come at the expense of security though, as there is still the strong 256-bit encryption and no logging policy that we look for in a VPN, plus extra security features like periodic IP address change, DNS leak protection, and a kill switch so you don’t accidentally use an unsecured connection.

The network of servers available is large enough to meet most needs, with 850 servers in 60 different countries. The IPVanish software is available for devices running Windows, Mac OS, Android, Linux, Windows Phone, or iOS, and you can install it on a number of different routers for your mesh network needs.

3. CyberGhost

If you want a simple, easy to use VPN with a very clear graphical user interface, then you should try CyberGhost. The CyberGhost app makes it easy for new users to connect to the right server for their needs, by offering options like browsing anonymously, torrenting anonymously, or unblocking websites with region locks. The connections are fast and the security is good, with the vital strong 256-bit encryption and a no logging policy. There are also extra security features like a kill switch which is automatically activated when you use particular profiles like torrenting anonymously.

The CyberGhost software gives you access to a large server network of more than 1300 serves in 30 different countries, and the software can be installed on Windows, MacOS, iOS, and Android. There is also an option to install the software on routers which is perfect for mesh network users.

4. NordVPN

When you’re looking for a VPN with the highest possible security features, then you should consider NordVPN. NordVPN uses the military grade strong 256-bit encryption that we like to see, and naturally they have a no logging policy so your internet activities will never be recorded. But what sets NordVPN apart is the availability of speciality servers for particular needs. These include special servers for P2P download users and dedicated IP servers for those who need a static IP address. But what will be of most interest to mesh network creators are the special security servers. These include servers for anti DDoS, onion over VPN, and double encryption, in which the data is passed through two layers of encryption for the best possible security. There are more security features in the software too, like a CyberSec toggle which enables anti malware protection, and an app-specific kill switch and a general kill switch for flexible security.

The server network is very large, offering a massive 3500+ servers in 61 different countries to meet all of your needs. The software can be installed on devices running Windows, Mac OS, Linux, iOS, Chrome OS, Android, iOS and Windows Phone, as well as browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome, and for mesh network users there is also an option to install the software onto a router.

Conclusion

Mesh networks are a great option for home consumers who are looking for a neat solution to create a seamless wifi network over their entire house or office, with no dead spots and none of the annoying reconnection problems that using repeaters creates. The hardware required to set up a mesh network is widely available and while it is more pricey that most home internet setups, it offers far better coverage and flexibility for the future. If you are going to set up a mesh network at our home, don’t forget about security and make sure to use a VPN to protect your whole network from tracking and other security threats.

Have you tried setting up a mesh network? Or do you find that a single router or using repeaters works well enough for your space? Do you think a mesh network is worth the expense? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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